This story is from UCLA Today, a discontinued print and web publication.

Stellar scholar athletes are kings of the Rhodes


When Greg Kendrick once asked the freshmen taking his seminar on the heroic ideal in the West his standard introductory question, he was brought up short by one young man's response.

"When I ask students who their personal heroes are," said Kendrick, director of the Freshman Clusters Program, "they might say their parents or an older sibling" or someone contemporary, but usually not a public figure. "At that age, mine were Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

But Scott Hugo's response caught Kendrick's notice. Without question, the two people who inspired him the most were King Leonidas of Sparta and Alexander the Great. "I'll never forget it," Kendrick said. "He was really the first person in this course to actually name classical historical figures as inspirational." As the seminar went on, Kendrick was repeatedly impressed "by how engaged Scott was – about everything."

This persistent, powerful drive to devour knowledge, from classical to contemporary, has led Hugo, now a senior at UCLA, a Phi Beta Kappa junior

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UCLA's newest Rhodes Scholars Scott Hugo (left) and Christopher Joseph.
member and an avid rugby player on UCLA's club team, to the ultimate undergraduate prize: a Rhodes Scholarship and two to three years of all-expenses-paid study at the University of Oxford in England, with the possibility of funding, in some instances, for four years.

On Nov. 22, it was announced that the California selection committee for the Rhodes Trust had selected Hugo as well as Christopher D. Joseph, a recent UCLA summa cum laude graduate in geography, to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest and best-known award for international study.

Joseph, a four-year football player and three-year starter, demonstrated his strength of character to UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero when the student-athlete returned to the sport he loves after suffering two catastrophic knee injuries.

"In UCLA's storied athletic history, which includes a bountiful number of Olympians and the most NCAA team championships," Guerrero told the
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Joseph, a former offensive lineman and Academic All-American, graduated summa cum laude last June from UCLA.
Rhodes selection committee in a letter, "there have been less than a handful of intercollegiate athletes who have summoned the courage, overcome the doubt and done the work to recover from two such traumas and achieve the post-injury success as was earned by Chris Joseph."

At the same time, the football player was assembling a near-perfect academic record while focusing his studies on the complex social and scientific causes of deforestation. Joseph was doing ecological and geographic researchon exotic species in the broadleaf forests of Brazil, glaciers in arctic Canada, migration in Morocco and inter-tribal trading in Micronesia.

That both Hugo and Joseph have been academic standouts with astronomical grades while also achieving success on the sports field as athletes speaks to the unusual combination of brains and brawn that identifies Rhodes Scholars.

The will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, who established the scholarships, outlined the criteria for the awards: high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor.

To be chosen as Rhodes Scholars, candidates must first be endorsed by their college or university. Each year, more than 1,500 students seek their institution's endorsement. The complex application process culminates with a final selection of candidates, who are then called together for interviews with selection committees of their districts. There are 16 districts across the United States. 

While Joseph was not very aware of the scholarship before his academic mentor, Anderson School professor Don Morrison, suggested he apply for it, Hugo was very familiar with it.

"To be honest – this may sound like a clich – but ever since I can remember, I've always looked at the Rhodes Scholarship as something I wanted to strive for," said Hugo, "because it's given to well-rounded individuals. I always felt if there was a scholarship out there for me to win, this was it."

Hugo, who is spending the fall quarter studying in Washington, D.C., majors in political science and history. A junior member of Phi Beta Kappa, he has done research on U.S.-China relations and other aspects of East Asian affairs. And he has been a starter on the UCLA rugby team since his freshman year and a captain as a sophomore.
Kendrick was not the only teacher who noticed Hugo in class. "Scott took my Political Science 135 class (on China's foreign relations) last spring," noted Richard Baum, UCLA's foremost scholar on modern China. "He received the top grade in a class of 90-plus students. He was superbly prepared, and his essay examinations were simply outstanding."  

Hugo is the epitome of what Cecil Rhodes had in mind, said Kendrick, "a well-rounded individual in body and mind." President of his fraternity and a leader of youth groups against violence in Los Angeles, Hugo was one of the main organizers in the Bruins for Obama campaign. At Oxford, he plans to pursue a master's of philosophy in international relations.

"The thing that's very striking about him ... is that he wants to make a difference," said Kendrick. "He very much wants a public life. He wants to be a politician. He's also made it clear that he's not just talking about the State Assembly. … Yet he's very, very modest."

Hugo spent the fall quarter of his junior year last year studying at Oxford. He relished his courses on Alexander the Great and politics in the Middle East, as well as the English tutorial system that assigned him a classical scholar as his personal tutor. "I absolutely loved it. I really can't tell you how much I learned. I'm so excited about going back," he said. "Being around such brilliant, ambitious individuals really makes you want to push yourself."

On the rugby field at Oxford, he met people from Ireland, New Zealand and many other countries. "It's something I will never forget. It's why I feel so strongly about studying international relations at Oxford. It's so important to get a truly diverse perspective. It's invaluable to expose yourself to that."

For Joseph, going to Oxford will be his first trip abroad.

"I'm looking forward to everything – living in England, experiencing a new culture and country, meeting new people and going to one of the best institutions in the world," said Joseph, who is currently defensive line coach at Santa Barbara City College.

Joseph said he was in total disbelief and shock when he heard his name announced as one of the Rhodes Scholarship winners while he waited with other final applicants. "Everybody was just so absolutely impressive. … I thought to myself, 'If I don't get it, that's fine. I didn't expect anything."

His many supporters, however, say he got exactly what he deserves. "It's just fabulous," Morrison said of Joseph's selection. "He's such a wonderful young man."

Morrison, who holds the William E. Leonhard Chair in Management, took notice of Joseph as a freshman football player who was getting straight A’s in his UCLA classes. "I said I have to meet this student," Morrison recalled.

As an academic mentor to UCLA's athletes, Morrison guided Joseph, first, to economics because "Chris had very, very good analytical skills." But when the star athlete-scholar chose geography as his major, Morrison began to understand why Joseph was so hooked on the subject, poised as it is at the intersection of urban planning, the life sciences and sociology.

By his junior year, Joseph had built a solid reputation among his fellow students and football players as an academic star who eventually graduated with a 3.97 GPA. "Chris is not a grade grubber. His grades are a natural by-product of his passion for learning," said Morrison.

Said Guerrero: "He is articulate, enlightened, driven and a person with a truly outsanding personality and potential. He represents the ideal Bruin athlete and is the consummate winner."

To put Joseph on the intricate pathway that would lead to the scholarship, Morrison put him in touch with two Bruins who were Rhodes scholars: legendary swimmer Annette Salmeen and UCLA law professor Steve Munzer.

"You know what Hillary Clinton said: It takes a village,'" Morrison said.

Find out who UCLA'a other Rhodes Scholars are. Go to this UCLA Newsroom website.
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